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Travel tales

Desert of Salt – Insanity at a Sane place

My feature story was first Published in Sakal Times, Pune as a feature on Rann Utsav. Here is the clip. The blog is for a wider audience.

After my maiden visit to the Gulf of Kutch specially to the salt panes a few years back, I was longing to stretch out on the miles long enormous expanse of salt, i.e. Rann, the white desert near Village Dhordo. And finally this year, thanks to Gujarat Tourism, I got a chance to soak into the White Chadar (Sheet) of Salt at Rann.

The moment my flight took off from Delhi, shadows of Bollywood legend, Amitabh Bachhan standing in the middle of a “White Desert” flashed through my mind and made me ecstatic. As we traversed the 400 plus kms long road journey from Ahmedabad to Dhordo, image of Big B posing in the desert and wooing travellers to visit Kutch in his typical voice, “‘Kutch Nahi Dekha to Kuch Nahi Dekha!’ (you haven’t seen anything if you haven’t seen Kutch)” flashed through my mind.

And as soon as I got down of our car at the Tent City, celebration of sorts started for me. I was overwhelmed by the colours of the attire of Kutchi people and also by the colourful jewellery that the women folk adorned.   

As I waited for a tent to be allotted in the tented colony, my thoughts drifted to the miles long White Chadar made of Ice on river Zanskar in Ladakh for drawing a similarity. But the difference here at Rann, which until recently not been seen as a tourism hub, was a desert land of salt that is crudely earthy, charming and accommodating.  And as I entered the gateway to White desert, it was exhilarating. I found India’s Vice president, Mr Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu and chief minister of Gujarat, Vijay Ramniklal Rupani also chilling out on chairs specially laid out for them on the desert.

Mr Naidu, later during a cultural event said, “Relentless efforts of Modi jee when he was the CM of the state has put this desert on the tourism map of the world. Earlier nobody came here. But since 2005 crores of tourists have visited.” It should be worth mentioning here that Rann Utsav is organised to celebrate love, life and culture over a period of two months by the state government every year to attract tourists.

Enough of blah blah… right folks! Now let’s discuss the picturesque “White Desert”; the largest salt desert in India as well as in the world. This white desert deep inside the Kutch region of Gujarat is actually a dried river bed in winter months, almost 40km in length and is around 80kms from Bhuj. The river, Layari which originates in the Banni Grasslands dries up completely in winter months leaving white salt sediments in form of amazing rock formations. Layari River, in fact is a vast oasis for bird life during the summer months when it is full of water.

The Rann literally meaning salt marsh is a white, cracked and barren land with sparse, usually thorny vegetation. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth I have ever visited. I stood on the white chadar awestruck, looking at the endless white stretch, and thanked god twice – one for giving me an opportunity to visit Rann and second for the full moon night that I was going to spend here and indulge in shooting some romantic shots with the moon and stars in the background.

While I waited for the dreamy experience of star gazing with a white background, the sun was fast approaching its horizon, and the ball of fire completely hynotised me as it continuously changed its colour gradually fading away in the endless sky. The sky turned into a painter’s canvas and the rhythmic patterns on the clear sky burst out into a panorama of colours.

The view of the setting sun at Rann was mesmerizing and the colours at the horizon were just mind boggling. I was told that the Rann changes its moods as per the time of the day and it really was a visual treat for my eyes to experience the Rann with a sparkling effect and a varied colors of saffron, red and blue sky.

Even though the sunrise, sunsets and moonlit nights at the Rann are the most colourful presentations that made me ecstatic during my visit to the arid desert of Kutch, I was also amazed by Kutch’s gifted artisans. The tented colony at Dhordo was full of pop colours the people wore and the handicrafs that they were selling. The villages around Bhuj, homes of pastoral nomadic, semi-nomadic tribes, specialize in different forms of arts and for me a visit to the artisan villages was a must to complete my visit to the Rann.

The artefacts of Kutch are now seen all over the country and also in the overseas market. The main handicrafts of the district are Copper Bells, Rogan art, Seashell toys and dolls, ethnic embroidery, patchwork, terracotta, etc. Also the houses in the Banni area were living museums of beautiful paintings by Rabari and Harijan women.

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